The biggest key for the Reds to take the next step forward and make the playoffs next season is (fill in the blank).
I'll fill the blank in with "Edwin Encarnacion giving us a legitimate run producing bat in the cleanup spot." Believe me, I know that this team needs a lot of good things to happen this year to compete, especially on the mound. But I honestly believe that Edwin reaching "the next level" can get this team that much closer this year.
If he can realize even more of his potential this year, he'll give Dunn some protection and take a lot of the load off of Griffey's shoulders (which is way overdue). Throwing an RBI machine into the middle of that lineup instantly changes things (I'm sorry, I don't nor will I ever, consider Adam Dunn an RBI machine). It makes Freel and Deno and other's more dangerous at the top of the lineup, and gives the Griffey's and Dunn's of the world more pitches to see.
Granted, we need another good starter or two, and someone to emerge as the closer in a bullpen whose average age is 45, but this team desperately needs power, and if someone doesn't step up, it might actually not MATTER how well we pitch (Well unless we pitch like the Minnesota Twins, and we all know that we don't have that kind of potential). If someone doesn't step up, this team is in danger of falling even farther in the offensive rankings than it did last year, and another significant drop would doom us.
Here's hoping EE has a breakout season, takes pressure off of the hitter's around him, but more importantly, takes pressure off of our PITCHER'S, so that they can go out and throw 6 innings of 3 or 4 run ball and feel like they give us a great chance to win. If EE doesn't have a breakout year offensively, I don't know who else in that lineup could (from a power standpoint anyways). Here's a toast to EE making GABP his personal launching pad this season!